By Nicole Lyn Pesce
How do you tell the difference between everyday stress, and work-induced mental illness?
Even Oprah gets depressed, the media mogul and lifestyle guru has revealed in Vogue's September issue, confessing that her 1998 box office bomb Beloved sent her into a dark place for six weeks, reports news.com.au.
"I actually started to think, maybe I really am depressed. Because it's more than 'I feel bad about this.' I felt like I was behind a veil," she said.
"I felt like what many people had described over the years on my show and I could never imagine it. What's depression? Why don't you just pick yourself up?"
It's not just major publicised workplace failures that can leave workers feeling low. The daily grind is wearing many of us down.
Mental illness short-term disability claims are growing by 10 per cent annually in the United States, according to the Center for Workplace Mental Health.
And this brain strain costs serious money. Depression is a leading cause of lost US productivity with an annual cost of $44 billion to employers, according to the Depression Center at the University of Michigan.
In fact, employers are losing 27 work days per depressed worker, with two-thirds coming from "presenteeism" - when workers are present but less productive.
"There are very clear connections between work stress and depression, as well as other psychological symptoms," psychiatrist Dr Igor Galynker at Mount Sinai Beth Israel told Moneyish.
He explained that while small doses of acute stress (working toward occasional deadlines, or giving a big presentation) can cue your fight-or-flight response in a good way to boost performance, chronic stress (journalists on constant deadline, or police officers in the line of fire daily) is linked to depression, heart disease, high blood pressure and type II diabetes.
Other workplace traps that can trigger depression include:
• Feeling like you have no control. You have no say in making any decision or changing the work culture and you don't feel comfortable talking to your manager or employer about it.
• Job insecurity. You could be fired or laid off at any time, or fear getting axed if you address workplace issues.
• Irregular work hours and poor sleep. You can't rely on a consistent schedule and you're not getting enough rest to recharge.
• Work-life interference. You're texting and emailing with your employer outside of work hours and you're struggling to maintain family relationships, or care for children or sick parents.
• Workplace discrimination or harassment. Hostile work environments and threatening interactions with co-workers and superiors are associated with higher risks of depression.
• Values that don't align. You legit abhor where you work or who you are working for, or you're doing something you have zero interest in.
FINDING A SOLUTION
"When you feel like it's Monday every day, you're being pushed over the edge," Dr Nancy Spangler, a consultant for the Center of Workplace Mental Health, said.
Are you having trouble sleeping at night and getting out of bed in the morning? Are you withdrawing from co-workers?
Has the quality of your work changed - do you feel like you can't make decisions, meet deadlines or keep organised anymore?
"What may look like withdrawal or laziness or disinterest could really be an employee struggling to keep it all together," Dr Spangler said.
Treating depression saves employers US$2,000 annually per employee through improved health and productivity, according to the Center of Workplace Mental Health, which has tools to coach supervisors in spotting someone suffering from depression and ways to approach them to help.
"Create options for yourself," Dr Galynker said.
See if you can switch schedules, or reprioritise what's on your plate and push back deadlines where possible.
This could also include finding another gig. "Looking for a job is an escape mechanism and sometimes also a lifesaving mechanism if you find a good job that repairs the situation," Dr Galynker said.
Or it can give you fresh perspective on your current gig if the other jobs out there are actually worse, or paying less.
TAKE A BREAK
Dr Spangler suggested going for a run or a walk, which is proven to boost mood. Spend a few minutes meditating at your desk or someplace quiet.
Use your annual leave, even to just extend your weekend by a day or two to reboot. Or call in a mental health day, which is losing its stigma thanks to employers like Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Olark CEO Ben Congleton, who went viral recently after praising an employee for taking personal time to focus on her wellbeing.
"Sometimes we ignore the signs [of depression,] or we don't think it's serious until we're overwhelmed," Dr Spangler said.
"Knowing when we need to replenish ourselves, physically and emotionally ... helps us bounce back from stress and become resilient."
• Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
• Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• Youth services: (06) 3555 906
• Youthline: 0800 376 633
• Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• The Word
• Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
• Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
• CASPER Suicide Prevention
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.